Waiting

Waiting

“You take it on faith, you take it to the heart, the waiting is the hardest part.” ~ Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 

It was the middle of the week in the middle of summer, a hot and quiet Wednesday.

I was working from home, waiting for a delivery that would require my signature. I woke up, made some coffee and answered some emails from my kitchen table. Then I cooked up some eggs and took a shower. I was cozy at home, but part of me couldn’t help feeling a little stuck. Knowing that I had to wait at home was making me think of everything else I could be doing instead.

I’ve never really been that good at waiting. Waiting is something that I’ve had to learn how to do, and even when I’m able to do it well, that doesn’t always mean that I’ll be able to do it well again. Waiting is work for me. It’s one of those basic skills that I’d wished had been taught in school. If that had been the case, then, surely, I’d be better at it by now! Although I’m not so sure what kind of class that would have been. What would we have done? Would we have just sat at our desks, waiting? What would we have been waiting for?

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Uncle Joe

Uncle Joe.cropped.jpg

"My Lord, my Lord, my Lord, my Lord, take me to the place I need to go." ~ Michael Franti & Spearhead

My memories of my Uncle Joe are mostly centered around his joining us for holiday meals. These memories start when I was very young. I’d hear the doorbell ring and race with my sister to greet him before he could even step inside.  

“Uncle Joe! Uncle Joe!” we’d cry. “When are you getting married?! When are you getting married?!”

He never had an answer for us, but, then again, I don’t know that we ever really wanted one. As little girls, I think we just liked asking the question! It was our standard way of greeting him, and he was always patient with us. He’d lean down to say hello.

“Pick us up! Pick us up!” we’d cry.  

My sister and I would hang from his forearms, and he’d lift us up and down like little weights. He was strong, always working out and playing football. When we’d visit my grandmother, he’d always be in the basement, lifting weights. I could hear them clanking, but I was afraid of that basement, and so I’d always wait until he came upstairs to say hello.

At holiday meals, he’d pile his plate high. He loved black olives like my mom and now my son. He was left-handed, just like me. When I was little, I told him that meant that we were related. I’d share my egg with him every Passover. He did me the favor of always eating the yolk. He’d take naps in my brother’s room after our Thanksgiving meals, and when he woke up he’d watch the football game through the rest of the afternoon.  

I remember my Uncle Joe working for W. Bell & Company. On my birthday, he picked out a jewelry box for me from there. It was one of my most prized possessions. It was white with painted greenery, and it had two doors that opened in the front, behind which there were three drawers lined in velvet. All through my growing up years, I kept it on a shelf in my bedroom, placing inside of it anything and everything that was ever special to me.

When I grew up, so did my Uncle Joe! He moved out of his mother’s house and into his own apartment! I remember visiting him to say hello and check out his new digs. My memories of that visit are of him going through the clothes in his closet and asking me which ones were still in style.

Not long after that, my Uncle Joe finally answered our question from so long ago. He was getting married! We were excited to attend his wedding to Mary Ellen at their home near the Bay Bridge. I remember two things from that day. The first was how he looked standing next to Mary Ellen. He looked so proud. And the second was my discovery that my Uncle Joe would be sleeping in a pink bed! I must have passed by their bedroom and caught a glimpse of their spread!

Over the years, I continued to see my Uncle Joe on holidays, mostly at my folks’ and sometimes at the meals I’d host. Otherwise, I didn’t see too much of him, but that didn’t make me feel any less attached. I have a beautiful picture of him with my daughter from when she was a baby that I’ve kept on my desk all these years. He’s holding her tight in both arms, and she’s contentedly ensconced. Her head is against his cheek, and he’s looking down at her and sort of smiling to himself. 

I think that picture is special to me, because in it I can see my Uncle Joe’s big heart. He was always playing football and working out and very much a man’s man, and yet I think he was just as much a soft touch. And that’s what I see in this picture.

And that’s also what I’ve seen over the years towards me. He wrote me touching cards after my children’s Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, telling me that I was a good mother and that he was proud of how I’d raised my children. He continued to join us for meals on the Jewish holidays and always kept up with what my children were up to. He was a huge supporter of my writing and asked me to send him what I’d written. Thanks to my Uncle Joe, I figured out that I’d written a book without even realizing it. He was very aware that I was a single mother and would always call to check on me, if ever my folks were away. And let’s just say that I also got the message that he would be available to go to bat for me, should I ever be in need of anything like that.   

In more recent years, my Uncle Joe had started to call me on a regular basis. He’d ask after my children and my sister and her family, too. And we’d talk at length about our daily workouts, his at the senior center, lifting weights and cycling on the reclining bike, and mine at the yoga studio. I’d started practicing downtown on the same block as where he had worked at W. Bell & Company! But he never liked that for me and oftentimes expressed concerns for my safety.

“Annie! I don’t like you going down there!” he’d say. And I’d assure him that I was safe, that the neighborhood had changed, and that I was being careful.

Other times, he’d express concern for me living alone.

“Annie! I worry about you in that big house!” he’d say. And I’d assure him that I was okay, that the house was not too big for me, and that I was comfortable there.

And sometimes he’d express concerns for what kind of uncle he had been.

“I may not have always been the best uncle,” he’d say to me, “but I want you to know that I love you.” And I’d assure him that I always knew that he loved me. And then I’d tell him that I loved him, too.

I don’t think he knew about the photo that I’d kept of him with his heart showing, the one where he’s holding my daughter as a baby. And I didn’t know that there were any others, either; but, apparently, there are lots of photos of my Uncle Joe with his heart showing. And when I visited him last week at his house, I got to see them all, hanging on a poster across the room from his bed. Pictured were all the people whom my Uncle Joe had been. There he was as a little boy, as a young man, as a big brother, as a serviceman in the army, as a devoted husband, and, in his highly cherished role, as the great Papa Joe.

Seeing these photos made me think of a Buddhist teaching about which I’d only learned days earlier. According to this teaching, inside of all of us is everyone! Throughout our many lifetimes, we’ve all been the many different people that others have been to us. And I thought about that as I looked at all those photos of my Uncle Joe, for inside of him there was everyone, too. In fact, from the looks of things, there were more people inside of him than I ever knew! And during my last visit to him, I got to see that for myself.

So many people were there! Friends and family and loved ones had been coming and going for days, showing him who he’d been to them in this lifetime. They were showing up to show him how much he was loved. And that made me so happy to see. I saw him surrounded in a way that I think all of us would want to be.

And when it came my turn to speak with him, I got to tell him what I hoped he already knew. I don’t know if he could hear me, but I got to tell him that his whole family was there, and that everyone loved him. And then I thanked him for all those calls, and told him that I loved him, too.

Repeating Numbers

Repeating Numbers

“A B C. It’s easy as 1 2 3, as simple as do re mi, A B C, 1 2 3 … “ ~ ABC, Jackson Five

I was at yoga the other night for an eight o’clock class, and, for the first time in years, the instructor was running late. But that was okay with us, as we ourselves had lost track of time. We were all happily seated in the practice room, visiting each other’s mats, chatting and catching up from the week.

The door finally opened. It was the instructor. 

“I’m so sorry I’m late,” she said. “It’s already 8:08!”

808 is a significant number for me. When I was a little girl, my parents encouraged my siblings and I to learn our home address by heart. That way, if we were ever to get lost, we would be able to tell someone where we lived. Our street number was 808, an easy enough number to remember. I remember practicing my address earnestly, reciting it over and over, like the words of a favorite song. As a result, the lyrics embedded themselves so deeply in my consciousness that, to this day, 808 is a number that’s as fresh in my mind as it was when I was a child.     

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Golden Blessings

Golden Blessings

“I say a little prayer for you. Forever, and ever, you’ll stay in my heart …” ~ I Say a Little Prayer For You, Aretha Frannklin

I have a buddha in a bubble! My children surprised me with a snow globe, and it’s home to a beautiful golden buddha. He sits inside in his peaceful womb, surrounded by sparkles as gold as he is.  

I’ve placed him on my vanity where I can see him every day. In the mornings, I pick him up, give him a good shake, and watch as the vanity lights illuminate the sparkles, while they spin around in a glittering dance to start the day. They swirl every which way and then gently descend, landing softly on his head and on his shoulders, in his hands and in his lap, around his seat and even on his feet.

The buddha is seated, just like I am at the end of my yoga practice.

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Hineni

Hineni

“Oh, we could be stars. We could be stars.” ~ Stars, Alessia Cara

The other morning, on the spur of the moment, I woke up and decided to go to yoga.

I hadn’t planned to make it out of bed so early, but I did, and apparently a lot of other people did, too. The class that morning was close to several workout spots, and, with the sun barely up, it was already rush hour on the block. I walked among the early birds, as we made our way to our various destinations, mine in the corner building on the floor at the very top. I climbed the staircase and checked in at the front desk.

“I’m Anne,” I said. “I’m here!”

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Surrender

Surrender

“Little darling, it’s been a long and lonely winter.” ~ James Taylor, Yo-Yo Ma

We’re in the middle of what’s turned out to be one of the moodiest winters in my memory.

We’ve braced ourselves against some of the coldest temperatures in history and basked in temperatures warmer than they ever should be.

It’s as if Mother Nature were battling herself, hesitant to fully emerge into her own season, even though it’s one that’s already here. But that’s okay, because, in our own way, I think we’ve been doing the same.  

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Direction

Direction

Any way the wind blows doesn’t really matter to me. ~ Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen

We were on our mats in a twisting flow at yoga. We’d already twisted in one direction, flowed some more in another and were about to twist in the other. I bent my knees, lowered my hips and placed my hands in prayer at my heart. I readied myself ahead of the instructions and started twisting to the right.

“Twist to the right!” the instructor said.

The class balked. Having already twisted earlier in that direction, everyone had known to go left, except for me. That previous turn wasn’t even in my memory!

“I’m sorry!” the instructor said. “I was watching Anne!”

I’ve been plagued with a questionable sense of direction from the time I can remember. In fact, one of my first memories is that of being lost, back when my sister and I would walk together to Hebrew school.

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Prayer

Prayer

“I pray you’ll be our eyes and watch us where we go and help us to be wise in times when we don’t know.” ~ The Prayer, Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli

It’s Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish New Year. It’s the Day of Atonement, the day when we fast and ask G-d for his forgiveness for any and all of our sins. All day we pray to be entered into the Book of Life, and when the sun sets, the gate on this opportunity closes until this same time next year, when we get to pray for forgiveness again.

This year, the High Holiday has fallen on a Saturday. I wake up and brew some coffee and then mix up a green shake. I tend to faint when I fast, and so it’s been a while since I have. And with my children all grown up, I no longer belong to a synagogue. And so these days I opt to spend the high holidays at hot yoga, where I’m always able to find something spiritual in the sweat. Today I shower and sign up for class and leave the house with my hair still wet.

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Harmony

Harmony

“Fill my heart with gladness, take away my sadness, ease my troubles, that’s what you do.” ~ Have I Told You Lately, Van Morrison

“The presence of truth can make us feel naked, but compassion takes all our shame away.”

This is one of the many phrases of which I took note while reading Light on Life by B.K.S. Iyengar, the father of modern yoga. I took notes because I’ve been assigned homework for the first time in 30 years! I even had to hand in a one-page reflection paper by a certain date, typed and printed! I’ve signed up for yoga teacher training, and reading this book was my first assignment.

I’ve been surprised at how excited I am about the organized structure of the training. There’s a plan for everything over the next five months, and I find this very appealing, probably because it’s been a while since I’ve actually had any sort of plan. Over the past few years, my only plan has been to practice as much yoga as I can and then to see what happens next. I call this my no-plan plan, and so far I think it’s been working. The practice has been like a treasure map, and following it has brought me out into the world in a way that I wasn’t.  

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Compassion

Compassion

“Well this good I’ve found, I spent all this time tryna find my way here.” ~ This Feeling, Alabama Shakes

It’s almost dark, and I’m looking at the world from upside down.

I am dripping in a backbend in a room that’s heated to almost 100 degrees. Upside down in my arc, I look out the back windows and see people gliding by, taking footsteps on the sky. A little girl stops to wave. She wants to say hi.

This is the peak of the practice. We’ve finished all of the standing poses, and we’ve warmed up our backs on the mats. We’ve rounded our spines in Camel and Locust and Bow, and we’ve already done our first Bridge. And now the count is on for Wheel.

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Practice

Practice

Hey now, hey now. Don’t dream it’s over. ~ Don’t Dream It’s Over, Crowded House

It’s cherry season.

I know this because beautiful bags of big white cherries have appeared, front and center, at all the markets, and for some reason this season I can’t seem to get enough of them.

I first noticed the cherries when I was visiting my son a few weeks ago. He had us over for brunch, and because I can’t ever show up anywhere empty-handed, I brought a cactus plant from the local market, along with a bag of cherries that I had noticed near the register. He set the cactus on the sill in the sun, and, when the eggs were done, we sat down to a feast with a bowl of cherries as our centerpiece.  

The next week I was visiting again, and more cherries appeared. This time they were waiting for me in my daughter’s refrigerator, a welcome sight when I arrived at midnight! I had a few before I went to bed and then again late the next night, when we sat down to a bowl of them in front of the television.

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Collision

Collision

“Got my doubts about it, oh but I try, oh make it work with tears in my eyes.” ~ Some Peace of Mind, Van Morrison

Cow Face is a funny name for a pose.


We cross our legs at the knees and press our sitting bones down on the mat. I’m not sure how this resembles a cow’s face, and I’ve never thought to ask.

Most of the English names for the yoga poses make sense to me. They have purpose: Chair pose. Side Angle. Handstand. They have power: Warrior One. Warrior Two. They have beauty: Half Moon. Crescent Lunge. 

But where is the grace in a name like Cow Face? 

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Rise

Rise

Come with me. Leave yesterday behind and take a giant step outside your mind.” ~ Take a Giant Step, The Monkees

It’s been a long day.

I arrive home from work and grab a quick bite and am about to go upstairs to my room in order to change into my yoga clothes for my evening practice.

But to leave the kitchen and get to the steps, I have to pass the most comfortable chair in the house. It’s big and soft and green, and it fits me perfectly. I often sit with my feet propped up on its matching hassock, or, more often, I sit sideways with my shoulders propped up on one side and my legs hanging over the other.

Needless to say, I don’t quite make it to the steps. I sit down in the chair instead and cover myself with a quilt, thinking I still have a few minutes to watch a little television.

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Balance

Balance

"There will be an answer. Let it be.”     ~ Let It Be, The Beatles

I’m on my way to yoga. It’s the middle of winter, but I’m dressed as if it were spring!

The temperatures outside are a little out of whack, and, aside from the politics of the day, it’s all anyone seems to be talking about. As a matter of fact, just as soon as the Obamas left town the weather seems to have gone upside down! With their departure came a major shift in the atmosphere, and ever since then the heavens above have been a reflection of the chaos down here.  

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Time

Time

This time last year doesn’t seem so long ago.

We were deep in the winter of mid-February, and I was wearing everything possible: my jacket and scarf, my ear wraps and gloves, my leg warmers and tall winter boots. I had arrived with my suitcase in tow at my daughter’s work show to help her manage some overflow. 

We worked all day and into the early evening, and then we made our way to meet her other half and my son for dinner.

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Thought

Thought

Well it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe ~ Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, Bob Dylan

I started practicing yoga for my body, but I think it’s also been helping my brain.

I wish I had the kind of brain that didn’t think so much, but that’s a thought that’s hard to fathom. I’m jealous of the people who don’t know how to dwell.

At yoga there is no time to dwell, and that’s a good thing. On the mat there just is no room in my head for anything other than what the instructor has said. We are always moving, even when we are still, and if I'm not paying close attention, then I’ll find myself moving in the wrong direction.

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The Basement

The Basement

’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed. ~ The Monster, Eminem featuring Rihanna

I used to be afraid of the basement.

When I was little, we had a beautiful basement. Its paneled walls enclosed a living room, a toy room, game tables and even a grand piano. A sliding glass door opened onto a patio and into a big backyard.

As children during the day we’d happily play for hours down there, but at night it was a different story. I was convinced that Dracula and Frankenstein had set up home under the basement steps and in the back toy room, too. Inevitably, we’d leave something behind, and in the evenings I’d be sent to retrieve whatever it was. I remember many times peering fearfully down the stairs while building up my courage for a frantic dash down and back.

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Goodness

Goodness

I’ve had so much energy these days that I don’t know what to do with myself.

And so I’m doing what I know to do when I don’t know what to do. I’m practicing lots of yoga.

Each night I’m on my mat, trying to expend the energy that I’ve captured in my body. It’s not that I’m not happy to have it; it’s just that it needs someplace to go. Who knows how it got there, but I think it happens while I’m sleeping. I seem to wake up with it, sometimes even in the middle of the night!

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Agony

Agony

This is agony, but it’s still a thrill for me. ~ Agony, Paloma Faith

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

These are the words of the great poet and storyteller, Maya Angelou. I’m guessing she knew a thing or two about agony, because she spent her lifetime writing her stories.

By comparison, I’ve only spent about a moment of mine. And that’s because, before yoga, I didn’t even know I had any stories inside of me, much less any kind of agony.

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Tikkun

Tikkun

“I’m here, and I’m on the mend, my friend.” ~ On the Mend, Foo Fighters

For almost a year, I’d put off getting my elbow checked out. I was afraid that if I did, I’d be told to stop practicing yoga. But what had started out as a dull ache had turned into a sharp pain, and so I set up the appointment.

I was diagnosed with tennis elbow, which for me these days is writer’s elbow. Who knew that writing could hurt? But apparently I had some microscopic tears that only rest could heal.

Why I needed someone to tell me that part of me was hurt and needed rest, I really couldn’t say. But my plan to dismiss the ache hadn’t turned out so great. Of course I was glad for the X-ray and to know that nothing was broken. Still, it wasn’t lost on me that I’d ignored this signal from my body.

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